It's hard to get historic fiction right, keep it believable, and be entertaining. Dan Simmons gets it right in his latest novel, Drood, while also bringing in an element of the fantastic. What I love about London is its magic - around every corner you think there might be some sort of wizardry happening. Call it the Harry Potter effect. Simmons uses that sense of magic to finish the tale of Charles Dickens and his last piece, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a book he never completed.
Not knowing a good deal about Charles Dickens life, I wasn't able to discern which events in the book are factual and which are created by Simmons. For me, that is part of his genius. In much of the historical fiction I've read, you can clearly see the line between what we know happened from a historical perspective and what is invented by the author. Even when something in Dan Simmons takes us down into the underground world of London and I was certain that these events could not have happened given their magical component, I found myself being pulled even deeper into the story, able to completely put aside reality so I could follow Charles Dickens, and his friend, Wilkie Collins (the narrator of the book), on their dark adventure.
On occasion, I find English literature a bit difficult to trudge through. The language and turn of phrase can be difficult to follow. I didn't find that at all with Drood. Though it is certainly written in the English style, I found that it was very easy for me to visualize the action of the book.
To be sure, Drood is a commitment. At 771 pages it is not a quick read. I also found that the language was so beautiful that I wanted to enjoy it. It was one of those books that I enjoyed so much that I was a little reluctant to get to the end, perhaps because I know how the ending goes. I know Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins, are no longer with us. And after following them on their wild ride, albeit one that ends tragically, I was sad to see both of them reach their end.
Drood is masterfully written. Just by reading his work, I was made into a better writer. His construction and ability to use history without letting it overtake the narrative are impressive and to be applauded.